Everything about this cook book is relaxed, unhurried, calm. The serene expression on Simon’s face as he skins broad beans for the cover shot, tea towel casually slung over one shoulder, sets the tone for the interior where he instructs the reader in a way that manages to be bossy without condescension. A bit like when your mum teaches you stuff. I suspect that was the aim really, he mentions his mum quite a bit. Just a brief FYI, I have never taken the time to skin broad beans. Perhaps if I did, I too would be serene.
I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but oh, how I want to! I love the way the chapters are named (for example ‘Ham, bacon & a little pig’), and I will always make more room in my heart for a cook book that uses plastic figurines in its imagery. Which brings me neatly around to the photography. Unfussy, clean, beautiful shots that make your mouth water and your mind do funny things. Take the shot of ‘chicken liver mousse with port jelly’, the picture is purity itself - food, dish, spoon, but the mousse looks so smooth and unctuous, it’s like a winking nun showing you her stocking tops.
So, will I be making the mousse? Yup, I have been seduced by the winking nun. I probably won’t bother with the port jelly though. I’ve never been one for straining things through muslin, and who has time for that when you work full-time, and have a constantly questioning four-year old to answer to? Can you imagine explaining straining grey turkey mulch through the cloth she uses to wrap her doll in? I just can’t deal with the sheer volume of ‘whys?’ that would ensue. Maybe when she’s older. Other recipes on my list will be the ‘fried ham and cheese sandwich’. I mean no one needs a recipes for a fried ham and cheese sandwich do they? But if the person who teaches you to clarify port jelly on page 154, also wants to share something as prosaic as a ham and cheese toastie with you on page 168, it’s probably pretty bloody tasty. No straining of things through muslin required for this, although he does gently suggest that you have napkins to hand for the eating part. Thanks Simon’s mum.
Fantastic anecdotes pepper the book. The peeling his own potatoes at the dining table incident described in ‘best potato salad’ made me laugh out loud, and when boxed suet is deemed ‘fine, just not quite the same’, he’s faintly passive aggressive. It’s really refreshing in these post Jamie Oliver times to be told exactly what to do, and if you can’t do exactly that, well it might be a bit rubbish, but never mind, you tried your best. Thanks mums everywhere.
So, where do these recipes fit into my lifestyle? I suspect, like I do with most recipes books, I’ll use this as a guide rather than slavishly follow the instructions to the letter. For instance, not being too fond of cooked cucumber, I think I’ll give the the limp affairs in ‘poached chicken with saffron sauce & cucumber’ a miss, but ‘fried cucumber with soured cream & dill’ sounds okay. As the nights draw in now I’m looking fondly at all the slow cooked and rib-sticking numbers, like ‘split peas & ham hock’ and ‘breast of lamb baked with onions’. I might try my hand at the ‘Lancashire cheese and onion pie’ tonight. I rather think Simon’s mum would approve.
Reviewed by: Camilla Shepherd
Published by: BBC Books, RRP £25.00.